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It's not something I've seen in a textbook or any description of English grammar (these are always by necessity incomplete, so I do not trust them to describe the whole language in its fulness).

But it seems to me, you can repeat the adjective in English if you despise the trait the adjective describes. I have sometimes heard natives do this. Like this:

I think we need to seal up those drafty, drafty windows.

Why would you buy such a scrawny, scrawny dog?

Am I right by this analysis?

But I know, it's not the full story, because sometimes it simply does not hold. I had the inkling, so to test this out I said:

I see her going out late at night in that indecorous, indecorous skirt.

This sentence does not appear to sit well with English speakers.

Is there a reason for this?

  • "I see her going out late at night in that indecorous skirt" would already be a really odd thing to say because people don't tend to say "indecorous". – Deolater Aug 29 '18 at 13:59
  • @Deolater so you think there's a more "normal sounding" synonym? And how will they feel about the reduplication of whatever that might be? – Wilson Aug 29 '18 at 14:03
  • Perhaps "indecent", but I wouldn't reduplicate that either. Honestly I wouldn't reduplicate any word except "very". – Deolater Aug 29 '18 at 14:06
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    We'd say repeat an adjective. Not reduplicate. – Lambie Aug 29 '18 at 15:52
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The use of repeated adjectives is normally used for things that provide emphasis—those words that intensify something.

This is why indecorous, indecorous isn't something idiomatic, but very, very indecorous (in this case an adverbial use) might be.

The use of double words is not restricted to adjectives—although that's normally the case—or even just to a double use.

In the James Bond movie GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan says this:

"No, no, no. No more foreplay."

There as also a 1963 movie with the title It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

This kind of repetition need not be exclusive to the repetition of the same word, but can also be used to string together synonymous words that mean the same thing:

It's a completely, totally, absolutely crazy idea.

In short, this use of repetition is normally reserved for things that act as intensifiers of something else. If a word doesn't act in this way, it's unlikely it would sound natural in a repetitious construction.

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There's no rule, but in my experience this only works for a small set of adjectives and adverbs:

It's a horrible, horrible idea.

You have to be very, very careful.

It's a really, really big mistake.

I can't really think of any other examples for which the duplication would naturally serve as emphasis and not just be a stutter.

  • (it kind of feels like it would sound better with words in which the accent is on the first syllable, but while drafty or scrawny sound better than indecorous when duplicated, they're still rather odd) – Maciej Stachowski Aug 29 '18 at 14:50
  • Then there's always the **red, red rose; the green, green grass and the blue, blue sky! – Ronald Sole Aug 29 '18 at 15:10
  • Of course. Not every adjective lends itself to repetition. – Lambie Aug 29 '18 at 15:51
  • @Lambie And a big part of the question is why that's the case (or rather: it's "Is there a reason for this") – Wilson Aug 29 '18 at 15:58
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    @Lambie I think the question is "why do some adjectives sound natural when repeated and others don't". I'm not sure there's a better answer than "they just do", but I'm curious myself. – Maciej Stachowski Aug 29 '18 at 16:18

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